Teachers Write 7.12.18 Thursday Quick-Write with Justina Ireland

Good morning! It’s time for our Thursday Quick-Write, and today’s guest author wrote one of my favorite books of the year – Dread Nation.

Justina Ireland is also the author of the teen novels Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows. She enjoys dark chocolate and dark humor and is not too proud to admit that she’s still afraid of the dark. She lives with her husband, kid, and dog in Pennsylvania. You can visit her online at www.justinaireland.com.

When I think of writing, I usually think primarily in the fundamental building blocks of story: setting, character, and plot.  For me, this is the Holy Trinity, and manipulating any single one of these elements will impact the other two.  Is your character a plucky girl from 1880s Wisconsin? That’s going to make her a lot different than a plucky girl from 1980s Wisconsin. And moving either of these girls to California would also change them as characters and would require some manipulation of the plot.

But keeping these three elements in mind when writing means that improving any of them requires us to look critically at the other two. To fix a broken plot means to consider both the character and setting.  To change a setting means modifying character actions and plot development, and so on and so forth.

So the exercise I have for you today involves thinking about your character critically, and using a modification of setting to understand them on another level.

Your Assignment: Every character has a place where they are comfortable and uncomfortable, and a common exercise involves writing a scene where your main character is somewhere they would love and somewhere they would hate (in Dread Nation this is the main character killing the dead in the woods around Miss Preston’s and killing dead at a university lecture, respectively).

But a better way to fully understand the depth and breadth of a character is to completely remove them from their time period.  How does your 1980s girl fare in the 1880s? What trends does she love and what does she miss about home?  Writing these kinds of quirky, irreverent scenes can help to get you out of the rut of your plot, and help you build a deeper, more nuanced character.

So: take your main character and write a scene with them a hundred years in the future or a hundred years in the past. As you write keep the following in mind:

What do they love about this new time? What do they hate?

How well do they adapt and what does that look like?

What is the hardest thing for them to overcome about the time shift? What do they miss most about their own time?

Feel free to share a bit of what you wrote in the comments if you’d like!

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19 Comments

  1. Posted July 12, 2018 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    This is a very exciting prompt because my main character is obsessed with a scientist born in 1902. If my MC traveled 100 years back in time, it would make them contemporaries! This is going to be fun to write.

  2. Posted July 12, 2018 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    What is going on? My life has always been organized because I had a smartphone. I could reach out to all of my buddies. I could get help using my phone. I woke up this morning and I am in an ancient civilization. No one knows what a phone is. How do we communicate? I know that I can have a conversation with someone, but they have no idea about my past life. I can’t get them to understand the world of technology. Why would they know about technology. It’s too complicated to explain it to these people. I feel lost. I’m hoping that I go to sleep tonight and wake up in the world I grew up in.

    • Heather Jensen
      Posted July 12, 2018 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      This is great! I would love to read more!

    • Kelly
      Posted July 12, 2018 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      How can you make this more specific to show it’s from a certain time period? Can you talk about the technology that does exist in this time period that the character can relate to? I feel like this could be any character in any time period from one period with smartphones to one that doesn’t have smartphones.

  3. Carolyn Clark
    Posted July 12, 2018 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    I’ve been collecting rings as far back as I can remember. Each one signifying one year of my existence. This particular year reminded me of the year when death removed everyone from the house except for one child. The one child who survived and her survival helped future generations. My ring from that year appears weak, small, and contorted because not only was that year devastating to families, it severely diminished our population as well.

  4. Diane S
    Posted July 12, 2018 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    This is interesting because my main character, Letty is most comfortable at school and least at home. Her problems are those of kids in the present with parents addicted to drugs and distracted by it and a school that keeps her hopeful although academically she is struggling. Trying to understand her problems of the future will take my day! Thanks for the ideas.

  5. Barb Jaindl
    Posted July 12, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I’ve so admired the strength of authors who write speculative literature as well as time travel because of all the nuances to consider about not only thought processes but interactions between characters. Octavia E Butler’s Kindred is one of the most stunning examples of a character moving back and forth between time periods.o o

    What I never considered was using an activity like this to improve one’s writing. I’m looking forward to this serious play!

    • Karen Coutu
      Posted July 13, 2018 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      I agree with your comment! I am feeling a bit behind as I don’t have a WIP or have been thinking about characters, but I decided to take a character I just met in a novel and play with possibilities- both in the past and in the future. Students would love this! And it may just inspire a few students to research a time period and build background information. Fun to play with writing.

      Thank you, Justina Ireland.

  6. Martha Willey
    Posted July 12, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Justina,
    For dropping by and this writing prompt. I often tell my library students to think about the time that a story is written and how that influences the story. In my current WIP, my main character is working to make her dream come true. I think I will include a scene that when she gets down over things being rough, she can think back a few hundred years for what it would have been like for a woman back then trying to achieve their dreams. Thanks for the inspiration.

  7. Posted July 12, 2018 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I am currently working on a book in poems about the first African American female doctor in our state. This exercise prompted a poem.

    If I lived one hundred years,
    would I be greeted for who I am?
    The doctor.
    No, I say, I am not the maid.
    Don’t give me your hat.
    No, I say, I am not the nurse.
    Don’t show me your bedpan.
    I am the doctor.
    In one hundred years, will my skin color shine?
    Doctor, can you feel my pulse?
    Doctor, can you make me well?
    In one hundred years, will race
    be erased?
    replaced
    with respect?
    In one hundred years…

    • Ericka Beth
      Posted July 12, 2018 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Love this!

  8. Margaret Simon
    Posted July 12, 2018 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I am currently working on a book in poems about the first African American female doctor in our state. This exercise prompted a poem.

    If I lived one hundred years,
    would I be greeted for who I am?
    The doctor.
    No, I say, I am not the maid.
    Don’t give me your hat.
    No, I say, I am not the nurse.
    Don’t show me your bedpan.
    I am the doctor.
    In one hundred years, will my skin color shine?
    Doctor, can you feel my pulse?
    Doctor, can you make me well?
    In one hundred years, will race
    be erased?
    replaced
    with respect?
    In one hundred years…

  9. Donna Williams
    Posted July 12, 2018 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Bobby Dwayne Mullvain- The day after I began writing about Elvis the cobra something strange happened. I woke up and found myself in a different time. It was no longer 2015 but 1915! What a different time. When I woke up the only cloths that were available to put on were short pants and a stiff shirt and a coat! I put them on and went downstairs. Mom was there fixing breakfast. She had transported to 1915 as well. Mom never fixed breakfast ever. But today she did. Bacon, Eggs, and homemade bread. Homemade bread! Wow, this was the best breakfast ever! But then she told me I had to feed the pigs and chickens, and gather the eggs when I was through with breakfast. I realized pretty quickly where the bacon and eggs had come from. She said I could go to school when I finished breakfast. I wanted to call Val and quickly realized that there weren’t any mobile phones! Holy Cow! How was I going to call Val? I noticed a candlestick phone like I had seen at the history museum when we went on a field trip. I picked up the top part and lo and behold there was an operator who answered. I asked to be connected to Val, only to learn Val didn’t exist in this time! Valeria’s my best friend, what am I going to do without her? I don’t like this and don’t like having to go through an operator to make a call. What If I had something private, like the Elvis incident to talk with her about?
    Mom yelled for me and told me I needed to get my chores done before I left for school, so I walked outside. There were no houses around us. I could see a house in the distance, probably a mile away, but we had no near neighbors. We had a farm. Why did my parents live on a farm. Where was the school? Ifed the animals as quickly as possible. Mom gave me a sack lunch and I headed down the road toward the house. A mile and a half later I came to the school.
    To be contined…

  10. Peter von Euler
    Posted July 12, 2018 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    This was cool. My story is a family story set in NY in 1916, when my great grandmother wanted to march for women’s right to vote. The story is narrated by my grandmother, who was 12 at the time, but this conversation is between her parents. I tried setting it in 2016 (before the most recent election), and realized that not only would the technology be different, but the issues, the relationships between husbands and wives, and therefore all of the actions would be different, too. I had this sudden fear that my great grandfather, a conservative, who fancied himself a real estate tycoon, might have actually supported Hilary’s opponent. I wondered how my great grandmother and her daughter would have handled that. Anyway, here’s a snippet of their updated conversation:
    “Lil, what’s an 8-letter word meaning ‘elector’s grant’?” Dad barked. It was Sunday morning and he was sitting at the breakfast table hunched over his ipad, glaring at a crossword puzzle. Mother sat opposite him, checking her Facebook feed. She glanced over the top of her screen, smirking.
    “I thought it was against the rules to use any resources when you solve a puzzle. Dad was old school and often railed against people who googled or used wikipedia when they worked on a puzzle.
    “It’s not cheating if you ask your wife. I’m sure Bill asked your friend Hillary for advice all the time.”
    “Well he probably knew she was more qualified, anyway. Let the record show that the first lady is schooling the president, here. The word is ‘suffrage,’ Leo, s-u-f-f-r-a-g-e. I’m not surprised you didn’t know that. Your party is all about turning voters away these days.”

  11. Posted July 12, 2018 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    One of the characters in one of my WIPs is a sixth grade girl named Abby who is trying to find her place in the world. If I transferred Abby back to 1918, I think that she would still find it challenging to see where she fits. Thinking about 1918, the United States was involved in World War One. Abby could have had family members who participated in the war and I think that she would have struggled with that experience. The food rationing during World War One would have been difficult. Abby likes her unhealthy sodas and snacks. She would have been extremely grouchy without Cheetos, tortilla chips and salsa, and Coca-Cola. The flu epidemic in 1918 would have frightened her. She would have hated not having air conditioning. Clothes would be an issue for Abby. She likes her jeans and sweatshirts and I think that she would hate the fashion choices in 1918. I don’t think that she would adapt to the clothes typically worn in 1918. I think that she would miss her computer. She’s used to being able to Google or ask Siri about anything that she wants to know, so not having that available would take a lot of getting used to. I think that she would have pored over the newspapers. However, I don’t think that she would have liked the silent films or the music. School is not one of Abby’s favorite places, and I think the same would have held true for her in 1918. However, she would not have missed the middle school experience of 2018. I think that she would have preferred the classrooms of 1918.

  12. Julie
    Posted July 12, 2018 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    My character would miss instant access to information through the internet, especially her MLB subscription. In the future, maybe there would be ways to teleport or quickly travel to baseball games. In either case, this character appreciates a fast pace and would have to find new ways to satisfy her endless curiosity.

  13. Posted July 13, 2018 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    OH! This is exactly the writing exercise I need for my first round revision of my current WIP! Thank you! xo Debbi Michiko Florence

  14. Tracy
    Posted July 13, 2018 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    My traveler is a scientist. He is brilliant and completely focused and obsessed with his work. This intensity has driven him to the ultimate discovery. He has found a way to produce clean, endlessly available, environmentally friendly energy. His issue is that of so many in our day and time. When he attempts to make this innovation available to the public, he is immediately stopped by the bureaucratic lobbying and corporate greed that cannot allow his finding to reach the light.

    The scientist invented a time machine decades ago, when he was young and only playing with invention. He travels back one hundred years, before the insurmountable barriers he faces are not so ingrained.

    He has carefully planned his living arrangements and prepared clothing and a story of being an immigrant newly arrived in the States. He focuses squarely on his mission, and begins to work feverishly.

    Just as in his 2018 life, however, he has not taken into account the organic elements of the world in which he lives. In 2018, this element was greed. In 1918, the element is fear. The new, the unknown is the barrier in his new life. He begins, again, to make progress toward offering clean, free energy to the world, but, again, he is stopped. The cause is different, but the result is the same. He cannot maneuver the path of path of human behavior that guides every element of life.

  15. Posted July 19, 2018 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    I made my STEM and electronics-obsessed twelve-year-old my main character.

    Wes stretched and yawned. Shaking his head, he remembered the night before. He couldn’t believe the app that his mom actually let him download landed him in a time without electronics. Good electronics, he sighed. “Sure, they have lightbulbs here,” he muttered to the empty room, eyeing the cabin as he stood. “But even the lightbulbs suck.”

    Rubbing the floorboards to stand, he pulled his hands back in disgust. Without vacuums, he quickly realized, no one cleaned the floors as well as they were cleaned at home. “This house could definitely use a Roomba.” He stepped to the kitchen. The plates, laid out to dry on the counter, caught light from the sun shining into the window. Outside, linens hung from the line, waving in the breeze. He hesitated before stepping over the threshold.

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